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Hilltoppers vs. Wildcats is attractive matchup



Governor’s Cup Redux is coming Saturday in Lexington.

Coming in Week Three of the college season, this game has the entertainment value of any season opener and, it says here, a University of Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky University series is more geographically attractive than any college game in Jefferson County.

These days, Western is a Division 1 climber willing to take a thump in places like Tuscaloosa, Alabama to upgrade its reputation and respect. Kentucky is an SEC clinger trying to find a win wherever it can to get back to middle-of-the-pack.

At stake? Must win for one program, respect for the other. You decide which is which, but not too quickly.

WKU and UK at Commonwealth Stadium is a natural that should be an early-season fixture.

Goals? For Kentucky, it’s to fill those 19,596 seats that were left empty at Commonwealth Stadium for last week’s game against Kent State. An influx of Hilltopper fans and the Wildcats having put 47 points on the board this past Saturday “ought to do it.”

Western donated four touchdowns to the Alabama Crimson Tide via turnovers, and Kentucky’s 89th-ranked defense gave up 409 total yards to a MAC team. Coming into Lexington, the Hilltoppers are Alabama-bruised, but will have watched a game film showing that Kent State pushed Kentucky’s defense around much like Louisville did.

Inspired by Sun Belt rival Louisiana Monroe’s stunner at Arkansas last week, Western should be primed.

The Wildcats? Turns out a Maxwell Smith-run offense is worth the time and ticket price.

Elsewhere …

Putting aside ugly run-upscore to-help-our-ranking efforts by Tennessee in a 51-13 win over Georgia State and Oklahoma in a 69-13 over Florida A&M, the college season’s fun began in earnest last weekend.

• At Louisville, Coach Charlie Strong showed an instinct to sniff out and nip trouble in the bud. Sensing his team was growing too smug too soon, the Cardinals coach reportedly blistered his team before and after UofL beat lightweight Missouri State.

Good news for Louisville fans? The Cards are 2-0, ranked 19th in America and up for an ABC/ESPN television date this week. The better news came from Tobacco Road where North Carolina, UofL’s next foe, surrendered 362 passing yards and 426 total in a 28-27 loss to Wake Forest, moving Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora to say, “I didn’t see too much pressure on the quarterback the whole night. I didn’t see anybody close to any receivers. It will be interesting to see on film.”

UofL quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be interested in the film, too.

• At Lexington, Kentucky turned in a season opening performance six days late. The Wildcats sputtered early, but Kent State followed the script.

Fans who have grown weary of Joker Phillips’ “we’re awfully young” talk just before or just after his “you’re either for us or against us” remark got an eyeful. The Wildcats are young, but talented and deep in places that promise dividends.

Prime among them is sophomore quarterback Smith. Poise, good decisions and efficiency are bringing him Tim Couch comparisons.

Second-year man Raymond Sanders rushed for 115 yards and didn’t fumble. Surprise? Once highly-recruited receiver Aaron Boyd appears to have finally arrived, apparently from another planet – 11 catches, 100 yards, a touchdown.

Defense? Rick Minter’s bunch was disorganized and poor early against Kent, better after halftime and swaggered by the fourth quarter when the visitors had surrendered.

Bottom line? Joker’s offense is coming, but 409 yards offense by a MAC team at home equals no improvement on defense from Week One. With Florida, South Carolina and Mississippi State coming, Minter had better find solutions or find a new line of work.

Lone eyesore in Lexington last Saturday? Commonwealth Stadium barely qualified as our state’s third-largest city. Only 48,346 paid Mitch Barnhart prices to see a season opener on an evening God made for humans to be outdoors. For 19,596 empty seats, the man who raised ticket prices took a sack.

• At Tuscaloosa, Western Kentucky took its medicine, but still beat the point spread. Despite four turnovers that Alabama turned into scores, the Hilltoppers acquitted themselves reasonably well and kept a measure of poise in front of more fans than a Western team had seen ever, 101,821. A ticket sale bonanza for the Tide that left us hoping WKU negotiated a percentage of the gate instead of flat rate. Dream on.

Good fun …

Thing of beauty: Louisiana- Monroe stunned No. 8 Arkansas in overtime in Little Rock, a result that should not be lost on fans in Kentucky.

Kentucky plays the Hogs two days before Big Blue Madness. Western Kentucky gets Louisiana- Monroe for Hilltopper homecoming on October 20.

• Georgia and Florida gave Missouri and Texas A&M a proper welcome to the Southeastern Conference.

• Tennessee has ended the cream puff portion of its schedule. The Vols return to big league play this week with Florida in Knoxville. Last time the Vols beat the Gators, SEC experts were saying Tennessee’s new freshman quarterback had “happy feet” and was overrated. His name was Peyton Manning.

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